Unlocking the Iphone

Apple triggered a large-scale security and privacy debate after the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack that claimed 14 lives.  The government wanted the IPhone unlocked to access the digital intelligence inside to ascertain if there was actionable intelligence.  Apple refused.

Apple’s position was focused on user privacy and encryption used in their IOS operating system; Apple wanted to protect the data from user base and prevent future security issues in IOS if they created a back door.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wanted the device unlocked quickly so to interdict other plots or identify co-conspirators in the attack.  I appreciate both sides of the debate.

Ultimately an Israeli company, Cellebrite, who that specializes in mobile digital intelligence, was contracted to unlock the device without Apple’s help and the IPhone5 was unlocked.  The court order served upon Apple to unlock their own device was withdrawn by the Government.  There will likely be similar fight someday in the future.

The Cellebrite website offers a service that unlocks, “Apple IOS devices and operating systems, including iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Pro and iPod touch, running IOS 5 to iOS 11”.  “Devices are unlocked and returned within 10 days”.  IOS 11 is installed on Apple’s latest phone offering the IPhone X, which implies that it could be unlocked.

Unlocking Apple devices is both good news and bad; good if it’s in the public interest to quickly access a specific phone for actionable intelligence and bad if Apple cannot make an IOS version that keeps everyone’s personal data safe – which is the thrust of their argument against unlocking their own devices in the first place.  Fortunately, the true need to quickly access an IOS device very quickly is rare, so the debate has been shelved until the next need arises.

Don’t worry Android OS users, Cellebrite doesn’t discriminate – they offer the same service on a long list of devices that use the Android operating system.  Sometimes I wonder if any device can truly be made secure.

My final thought; isn’t it interesting that this unlocking service isn’t offered by a U.S. company? Why would that be?




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